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Songwriting book

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New Member
Joined: 14 years ago
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Hi, I am interested in writing songs for the guitar. I have been playing classical guitar for about tens years and started with accompaniment guitar a couple of years ago. I studied 'solfege' (I guess it is called music theory in English?) a while ago and don't remember most of it. I am interested in writing some songs for the guitar or as well as better understanding how songs are written and why those chords go together. Does anyone know of a good book that I should buy?

Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921

It's called 'solfege' here too - but it's sight singing rather than theory.

There are lots of books on songwriting. But I haven't yet found a single book that covers all the bases well. You can break songwriting down into lyrics, melody, and harmony. Many books on songwriting try to cover not only all three of these, but also aspects of the music business (copyrights, licensing, getting a publisher, etc.). They end up just scratching the surface of each area, and you end up not actually learning very much. So I'd go for multiple books that cover narrower parts of writing.

My favorite book on lyric writing is "Lyrics, lyrics, lyrics and How to Write Them" by Jack Smalley. it might be tough to find, as it's nearly 30 years old... but it breaks down the process into the basic story telling aspects: plot, setting, etc. You'll also want a decent rhyming dictionary, and probably a thesaurus for the lyric writing part. It also looks at several 'standard' types of lyrics. The examples might be old and/or cheesy, but the basic ideas can be found in almost all songs... couple this with analysis of current songs and you'll leran a lot.

Coming up with catchy melodies is tough, but important - you can have a so-so lyric and a great melody and have a successful song. Since coming up with melodies is the core of composition, I like "Composing Music" by William Russo. It doesn't assume much prior knowledge of music, and outlines the basic tools of composers. Even though it might not look like it has very much about songwriting (there's only one chapter on words and music), having the tools are important - if you have a melody that's not quite right, you can use ideas like inversion, retrograde, inflection, etc. to come up with alternatives - and even if you don't use them, they can spur new ideas.

Understanding harmony is a huge task (one that I've been personally working on for 30+ years, and I constantly discover new aspects or ways to approach things!) The Russo book gives a bit about how to harmonize melodies, but as far as songwriting goes, many songs are quite simple - lots of them just a I-IV-V, a I-vi-IV-V, or a ii-V-I progression. I'd start out with just a book of chord progressions - there are lots of them out there - and a book on chord substitutions - again, lots to pick from. Then you can start with a basic progression, and have some idea of other chords that might work in place of one or more of the plain vanilla ones.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL

Prominent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 717

Rikky Rooksby's How to Write Songs on Guita is almost a classic.